Coming to a Pipeline Near You: New Safety Rules

Monday, May 23, 2011 @ 04:05 PM gHale

New safety rules for oil and gas pipeline operators across the United States will come out in August, the U.S. Department of Transportation agency’s top official.

“We and the Obama administration will redouble our efforts on pipeline safety,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

LaHood visited the site in San Bruno, CA, where a PG&E Corp. (PCG) gas pipeline exploded last September, killing eight people and destroying dozens of homes.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been investigating the cause of the Sept. 9 pipeline blast. La Hood said his agency and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration don’t need to wait for the NTSB’s report to issue pipeline safety regulations.

“We know what needs to be done,” LaHood said.

LaHood said the rules would likely include a requirement for pipeline operators to complete a “top-down review” of their pipelines and replace any pipelines that are in “critical condition, immediately.”

“We need to fix America’s pipeline system,” LaHood said. “We can do better.”

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat whose district includes San Bruno, has introduced legislation that would beef up federal pipeline safety requirements. Speier said if Congress did not pass pipeline safety legislation, the DOT could make many of the changes necessary to improve safety and require greater disclosure from pipeline operators about the locations of their pipelines and their proximity to residences and neighborhoods.

“This all could have been prevented,” Speier said. She added that state pipeline regulator “was not doing its job” in overseeing PG&E’s pipeline operations.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E and other utilities, has proposed new rules requiring pipeline operators to test their older pipelines with high-pressure water infusions, or replace the lines, as part of an overhaul of pipeline safety rules.

CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio said that while the commission is awaiting the results of the NTSB’s investigation of the San Bruno pipeline blast, the agency is moving ahead with new rules based on safety requirements they already know.

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